Incoming students will meet with the class advisors individually at the beginning of each semester to plan their initial program of graduate study. Class advisors will be available to meet with students at any time during their graduate career.

The class advisors will lead a week long orientation for incoming students at the end of August. The orientation will include a set of lectures and campus tours that will introduce students to the many resources at and around Harvard and will answer their questions regarding research, academics and the graduate program.  Students will also be paired with a senior graduate student mentor during the orientation.

After the first year a student will either choose a single faculty member as their dissertation advisor, or initiate a collaboration between two or more labs. Students may choose dissertation advisors from any science department at Harvard, including the research departments of the 11 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals.


First year students meet individually with their class advisors to discuss their background and interests, and together they design a course of study to complement the student's existing training.

Students are required to complete four required science courses. A list of courses students commonly take can be found here.
In addition to these four courses, Chemical biology first year students enroll in three courses that help prepare them for the practice of science.  In addition to the many options within Harvard, students may also register for classes at MIT.

Chemistry and Chemical Biology 170: Chemical Biology. Applying chemical approaches to problems in biology. Topics include: protein engineering and directed evolution; RNA catalysis and gene regulation; chemical genetics, genomics, and proteomics; drug action and resistance; rational and combinatorial approaches to drug discovery; metabolic engineering

ChemBio300: Introduction to Chemical Biology. The course is an evening seminar featuring weekly lectures by program faculty which serves to acquaint first year students with the major research themes of the program faculty and helps them decide on research rotations and evaluate potential dissertation advisors.

BCMP 236: Modern Drug Discovery: From Principles to Patients.  Application of molecular, systems, and structural biology, genetics, genomics, enzymology, and chemistry to drug action and development of new therapies.  BCMP309qc will familiarize students with central concepts in drug action in man at the level of molecules, cells, tissues and patients, and in relevant methods.

MedSci300: Conduct of Science. The course follows a discussion group format in which 8-12 students meet with a faculty member who leads discussions on the ethical and responsible conduct of research.


Students in the program are expected to take 2-4 laboratory rotations before selecting a dissertation project. This is to allow the student to explore different research areas, identify potential collaborators, and experience the environment in different research groups. The program does not set time limits on rotations, but most rotations are expected to be 6-12 weeks long.


Students are required to act as teaching fellows in at least one course. We recommend that students complete this requirement by the end of their second year if possible.

Preliminary Qualifying Examination

The aim of the PQE is to assess the student's ability to review research in a particular field, to identify a problem or formulate a central hypothesis that is significant for the field, to design line(s) of experimentation to address the problem or test the hypothesis, and to describe how s/he will interpret the data that would result from the proposed experiment. The topic for the proposal may be related to a student’s dissertation research or the topic may be completely independent.

Students may take the exam in the fall term (by the end of October) or in the spring term (by March 15th) of their second year. It is advised that the student completes the teaching requirement in the semester without the PQE.


After completing the PQE, students will be required to meet once a year with a Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) consisting of their advisor(s) and three additional faculty. This should help refine the student’s ideas about their dissertation project and define the scope, direction and overall soundness of the idea.

The role of the DAC is to assist the student in defining the dissertation project, review scientific progress, offer critical evaluation, suggesting extension or modification of objectives, arbitrate differences of opinion between the student and the advisor if they arise, and decide when the work accomplished constitutes a dissertation.  We expect that students will complete their dissertation by their fifth or sixth year of study.